May is the best month of the year for wildlife (in my opinion!) and there is so much to see, including plenty of really special species, so I thought I'd whet your appetite with some snapshots I took on my phone of some of the treasures I tracked down over the weekend. We've been getting some great photos from Nature's Home magazine readers from the spring, including a hoopoe discovered by one lucky reader at the holiday home they were staying in, so I thought I'd join in myself, inspired by your shots.
Duke of Burgundy may be small but it defends its territory fiercely (image cMark Ward)
Butterfly diversity is increasing by the day and this little beauty is a localised species that appears to be having a very good year thanks to the warm May weather. It's the Duke of Burgundy and at one site I visited, there were more than 50 of them among plenty of dingy skippers, grizzled skippers, green hairstreaks and plenty of other species enjoying the unbroken warm, dry weather in the south at the moment.
"Dukes" are equally good-looking when viewed from above (image cMark Ward)
Short chalk grassland and south-facing slopes are excellent for butterflies at this time of year so head for your local hills to see what you can find and if you fancy doing more for butterflies in your garden then take a look at the RSPB website for some top tips.
Orchid season is well and truly underway and fly orchids are out now - I found 68 spikes of this little beauty in a small area.
No need to explain how the fly orchid got its name (image cMark Ward)
Burnt orchids combine purple and pink in glorious harmony (image cMark Ward)
Burnt orchid is a beautiful little orchid found on short turf in a few locations which are fortunately protected.
Another rather fetching colour combo against the fresh spring grass is the purple and yellow of pasque flowers (image c Mark Ward)
Pasque flowers, found at only a few sites in the UK, usually peak in April, but there were still plenty of fresh flowers around.
What gems can you find?I hope you enjoyed this little photo-led preview into some of the treasures to be found over the next few weeks, The sun is supposed to shine for another week across most of the UK, so enjoy and see what you can find and don't forget to check back on the Wildabout section of Nature's Home April edition which is full of ideas and species to see for May and June, so get planning.
Large red damselfly by Janet Turnbull
I've been seeing more and more dragonflies and damselflies in the lovely weather this week, starting with nice views of a variable damselfly (a localised species) at one of my local patches - Paxton Pits - last weekend followed by good numbers of large red damselflies, four-spotted chasers and hairy hawker (another scarce species) here at The Lodge this week.
Nature's Home reader Janet Turnbull's photo really caught my eye when it arrived this week as it shows a large red damsel in fine detail, plus its prey: in this case one of our cranefly species. It's a good reminder that dragonflies are carnivorous.
Janet says: "I was at Glen Loy, Fort William, yesterday and whilst unsuccessful in my hunt for butterflies I did notice this large red dragonfly munching a cranefly."
Congratulations Janet on a great shot and a very timely one for our current rather lovely May.
For me, this time of year is ‘peak lushness’ on the garden front.
Everything’s still so fresh and green; bright leaves unfurling as spring blossoms fade, while other trees and flowers burst into riotous bloom. The lawn aspires to meadowhood by each weekend, and the air is filled with bees and butterflies. It’s a glorious time out there and I hope you’re all enjoying your gardens as much as I am.
But however lovely the garden’s looking, wildlife needs to move around and nature needs joined-up thinking to thrive. In the current issue of Nature’s Home (p28-34) we visit Kingsbrook, a new housing development from Barratt Developments in Aylesbury, Oxon, that’s designed with wildlife in mind. In partnership with the RSPB, they’re building fabulous homes for wildlife AND humans in a verdant shared space.
Even those of us not lucky enough to live there can learn plenty from the wildlife-friendly features throughout the fabric of our homes and surrounding streets and neighbourhoods. Here are five things we can all do to give nature a home (and space to safely roam) beyond our own garden.
Some of the wildlife-friendly features shown in our Neighbourhoods for Nature feature. Illustration: Chris Shields
1. Adopt abandoned areas
Is there an area in your neighbourhood that is uncared for and could be doing much more for wildlife? At Kingsbrook, a community orchard has been planted and the road verges are not high-maintenance clipped lawns but verdant wildflower meadows, attracting bees and butterflies galore. Look for verges, central reservations or traffic islands, neglected street corners, carpark edges and any other bits of wasteland.
Photo: Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)
2. Open hedgehog highways
Hedgehog highways are holes cut at the base of fences and other boundaries, enabling hedgehogs to travel between gardens. We’ve less than a million hedgehogs left now, down from over 30 million in the 1950s, so help keep them off lethal roads by working with your neighbours to give them safe passage. If you have impenetrable fences, pop round to your immediate neighbours and see if you can come to an arrangement to put in some hedgehog highways - all it takes is a 12x12cm hole in a hidden corner of the boundary. At Kingsbrook, Barratt used a giant drill-bit that cut out near little circles in each fence in a matter of seconds. And it’s not just hedgehogs that benefit - frogs, newts and more can benefit.
3. Add wildlife to your house - bat boxes, house martin cups and swift boxes can all be mounted under or around your eaves. Bat boxes provide snug shelters for bats, many of whom struggle to find safe roosts among modern architecture. They’re basically a wooden box accessed from below by a narrow slit - you can build your own or buy one, then mount is a south-east to south-west position on the wall under your eaves, or in a tree. Swift numbers have almost halved in 20 years, and these harbingers of summer desperately need nest sites. At Kingsbrook, the RSPB and Barratt worked with Marthorpe Building company to develop a ‘swift brick’, built into the brick walls of new homes, offering swifts somewhere to breed. If you’re doing any building or remodelling, consider incorporating some of these into your walls; otherwise, you can buy or build swift boxes to fit under the eaves. Kingsbrook’s eaves are also open to a third eaves-dweller - the swift’s cousin the house martin. These birds favour a muddy cup suspended beneath the shelter of the eaves; you can add a shelf to make their lives easier, buy ready-made house martin cups to attach below your eaves.
4. Inspire the planners
If housing is planned near where you live, write to your local planning authority and inspire them about the simple conditions they could set to ensure the development is wildlife-friendly. ‘Benevolent development’ could include wildlife underpasses under main roads (a simple culvert will prevent countless road deaths), shared green space with cycle paths and walkways, and the retention and/or planting of native hedgerows.
Hedgerows have criss-crossed our countryside since the Bronze Age, and provide a crucial habitat and corridor for many endangered species, as well as acting as windbreaks and erosion protection. If trimmed every other year rather than annually, they can provide birds with more much-needed winter berries. At Kingsbrook, existing hedgerows have been joined by hundreds of metres of newly planted native hedging along the roadsides, which in time can also offer some of these benefits.
Waterways also play a key role. At Kingsbrook, the swales (shallow channels) are designed to hold rainwater in storms, and when planted with native vegetation they’re ideal for wildlife. So, including bodies of water in any development can not only help manage flood risk, but provides a rich habitat for everything from ducks and frogs to bats and kingfishers.
And 60% of the Kingsbrook development is green space - not including gardens. This makes for a tranquil, relaxing neighbourhood for residents to come home to, as well as providing play access for children. It’s not about playing fields - it’s about orchards and riverbanks, creating havens for wildlife and more for residents to explore and enjoy the seasons.
5. Share your experiences
Post what you’ve seen and done for wildlife onto community Facebook pages or newsletters. Tell people what you saw on your Big Garden Birdwatch, give wildlife-friendly plants and cuttings to friends and neighbours – it can help spark connections and shared passions. Why not start a neighbourhood nature group?
I think you’ll agree that Kingsbrook sounds like a lovely place to live. I hope we see a shift away from the concrete and manicured lawns, and start to see more neighbourhoods that provide for nature.
If your community or development is working together to give nature a home, we’d love to hear about it! Log in to comment below, or just email us at the magazine.